The speculation is over, Selection Sunday has come and gone, and we are left with a 68-team tournament field.
The committee breaks it down into four regions for us – so we’ll break it down in four segments for you. Let us do the research for you.
First, I am going to be looking at the South Region led by the #1 overall seed Florida.
1 Florida vs. 16 Albany/Mount St. Mary’s
Did you know a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed? Yes, you did. Did you know Florida has not lost in 26 games? Yes, you probably did.
Mount St. Mary’s has played 3 tournament teams (Villanova, BYU, & Michigan State) and lost by 31, 32, and 33, respectively. Albany has played only one tournament team (Pittsburgh) and lost by 12 on the road.
Florida won’t have trouble here. Write them down in permanent marker.
8 Colorado vs. 9 Pittsburgh
There are very few things Pittsburgh does not do well. Led by Lamar Patterson, the Panthers are efficient on offense and get stops defensively. As a team, 3Ps are not heavily relied on at all, as only 21.3% of their points come from beyond the arc. They do not turn the ball over – and they rebound on both ends of the floor.
Colorado has been strong defensively this season, but they have had trouble offensively since losing Spencer Dinwiddie to injury. Their team effective Field Goal Percentage ranks 220th nationally, and they turn the ball over at a rate in the bottom 100 of the NCAA. 26.3% of their points come from the free throw line (21st highest in the country), over 4% higher than the total points coming from 3Ps.
I am picking Pittsburgh to pull off the minor upset and advance to play Florida in the Round of 32.
5 VCU vs. 12 Stephen F. Austin
This is one of the trendiest upset picks in the field.
VCU’s defense is known for its HAVOC press, but both defenses in this game have forced turnover percentages in the top 3 nationally. Stephen F. Austin’s glaring weakness is that it fouls at one of the highest rates in the country, but VCU shoots only 67.4% as a team from the charity stripe.
Stephen F. Austin has players that can score the basketball, like Desmond Haymon and Jacob Parker, while VCU does not shoot the ball effectively and will likely be missing its best 3P shooter, Melvin Johnson, due to an injury in the A10 Championship.
Give me the trendy upset here. Pencil in Stephen F. Austin over Shaka Smart and the Rams.
4 UCLA vs. 13 Tulsa
I really like the team Steve Alford has at UCLA this season. The Bruins score the ball efficiently and effectively. Only 27.5% of their points come from 3Ps (301st nationally), but they shoot 39.1% as a team. Their team effective Field Goal Percentage ranks 18th in the country, and they turn the ball over at the 16th lowest (best) rate in the country. Their only real weaknesses are their Offensive Rebounding (but they make up for it on the defensive end) and their ability to get to the line (but they give up a small amount of FTs, too).
Tulsa has won 11 in a row since starting the season 10-12. Their defense ranks 29th in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy. They do not shoot 3Ps particularly well, making an upset less likely. They do not rebound on the offensive glass at a high rate, either, making their ability to capitalize on UCLA’s weakness unlikely.
UCLA will move on with a win here.
6 Ohio State vs. 11 Dayton
O-H-I-O. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have refused to play Dayton in the non-conference in years past, but they cannot avoid the Flyers in the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton has the 46th best effective Field Goal Percentage nationally, and they rebound well on both ends. They shoot 3s at the 49th best percentage and 2s at the 82nd best percentage in the country. In terms of weaknesses, they foul too much and have very average defensive shooting percentages.
Ohio State is offensively challenged, but they make up for it with the 4th best defense in the country. Defensively, they have the 26th best effective Field Goal Percentage, 15th best forced turnover percentage, and 7th best Free Throw Rate. Teams have trouble hitting 3s against them, as well. On the other end, Aaron Craft handles the ball effectively, but the Buckeyes do not shoot well at all from beyond the arc.
I think this game will come down to the last few possessions – and I trust Ohio State’s defense to get a stop when it needs to. In Aaron Craft, I trust.
3 Syracuse vs. 14 Western Michigan
Syracuse will be playing in Buffalo, NY in this one, making it easy for one of the best traveling fan bases to pack the “road” arena.
Western Michigan has a turnover problem and does not shoot the long ball well – so it looks like the 2-3 Zone that has been giving opponents problems since Jim Boeheim’s tenure began at Syracuse will swallow them. Western Michigan is not very long (140th in Average Height), while Syracuse ranks 8th.
Syracuse has had lots of issues on the offensive end in the later part of this season, but I think Tyler Ennis and CJ Fair will be able to get the Orange through this one.
The combination of a favorable crowd and a turnover happy and poor shooting Western Michigan team will lead to a win for Syracuse.
7 New Mexico vs. 10 Stanford
After beating San Diego State 2 out of 3 times and winning the Mountain West tournament, New Mexico is a trendy pick to move into the Round of 32 and present a challenge to Kansas. The Lobos are very balanced – with an offense and defense both ranked 38th nationally.
There will be very few turnovers in this game, as both teams rank in the top 100 in offensive turnover percentage and bottom 100 in forced turnover percentage. Neither team takes a high percentage of 3Ps, either, so this will likely be a bruiser.
New Mexico has the 4th lowest defensive 2P% in the country (and the 21st best defensive effective Field Goal Percentage) – and I trust defenses to win close, bruising ball games.
New Mexico moves on to the Round of 32 here.
2 Kansas vs. 15 Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky has the 53rd best offense in the country and the 4th best effective Field Goal Percentage. They protect the ball and force turnovers extremely well, too, but they are a very poor rebounding team on both sides of the floor. 34.6% of their total points come from beyond the 3P line (11th highest nationally) – and they shoot 38.6% as a team.
This is a scary team to play in case they get hot from distance.
Kansas will be without big man Joel Embiid for at least the first two games of the tournament, and they have already lost 3 of 5. Also, Kansas does not defend the 3P line well, giving up the 257th worse defensive 3P%. Is an upset possible here?
I don’t think so. Kansas is one of the better offensive teams in the country – and they will expose Eastern Kentucky’s defensive weaknesses. Andrew Wiggins will do what he needs to push the Jayhawks into the Round of 32, but New Mexico will be there ready to pull off a victory over the South Region’s 2-seed.
What do you think?
We’ll be posting predictions and analysis and everything in between until the nets are cut in Dallas.
My friends in the toybox will be posting their opinions on the other 3 regions soon. Stay tuned!